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Iceland—Fire and Ice

Will Green
Independent/Consulting Geologist, Midland, Texas

Iceland is an amazing volcanic island of fire and ice about the size of the state of Kentucky. Iceland has 22 volcanoes that have been active during the past few centuries. Significant eruptions average once every 5 years and the total lava discharge in Iceland during the last 500 years represents more than a third of that generated on the entire planet earth.

Iceland is located along the mid Atlantic Ridge system, which marks the active boundary between the North American and European tectonic plates. New volcanic rocks are extruded into the rift zone that separates the plates. The plates are moving apart at the average rate of 4 cm. per year.

The frequent volcanic activity provides a significant geothermal resource. Only a small fraction of this resource is presently utilized. Surface thermal waters cause boiling pools, steam vents, geysers and bubbling mud pots.

During the last global glaciation ice was locally up to two miles thick on the island. Active glaciers still cover more than 15% of Iceland and the world’s third largest icecap is in southeast Iceland.